The Subscriber Bowl?

Okay, so we now have another spectacular Super Bowl in our rear view mirror. (I won’t make any mention of the favorable outcome.) But keep your eyes on the road ahead, because it may not be a smooth ride. I’m not just talking about the fact that the contract between the players and the National Football League ends in March. There’s another contract expiring that could have even further-reaching consequences.

The licensing agreements for television coverage of the NFL games — including the Super Bowl — are up for renewal in 2014. With roughly 75% of the American television households subscribed to a cable or satellite service, there is a real possibility that one of the cable channels could bid enough to take football coverage off the air. It has already happened to Monday Night Football, which ESPN has captured, and there’s talk that the network might be able to land more of the NFL programming. Keep in mind that ESPN is also investing in live 3D coverage of sports, which could also give it an edge in landing the licensing deals. If it can charge more for 3D advertising, it might be able to outbid the broadcast networks for the licenses.

If NFL games or other major sports coverage goes off the air, you can expect some grumbling from the remaining 25% who rely on local broadcasts. You can also expect more pressure for the content to be streamed over the Internet, even if it is a pay-per-view arrangement. And this will also provide more ammunition for the a la carte pricing advocates who don’t want to pay for 100 other channels just to get ESPN.

Buckle you seatbelts; this road could get rocky.